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World View: ISIS and Saudi Arabia in the Mideast Realignment

World View: ISIS and Saudi Arabia in the Mideast Realignment

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Saudi Arabia cracks down on terrorists linked to ISIS
  • ISIS and the resurgence of Saudi Wahhabism

Saudi Arabia cracks down on terrorists linked to ISIS

ISIS terrorists marching, carrying the ISIS black flag (AP)
ISIS terrorists marching, carrying the ISIS black flag (AP)

In yesterday’s posting ( “3-Sep-14 World View — Mideast realignment continues following the Gaza war”), I used a Generational Dynamics analysis tooutline how the Mideast is realigning itself around a growing faultline separating Israel plus Egypt plus Saudia Arabia versus thePalestinians plus Qatar plus Turkey, with vitriolicly anti-AmericanIran increasingly aligning itself with America and the West. Moreneeds to be said about the rise Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria (ISor ISIS), and its place in the Mideast realignment.

It probably wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say thatleaders in Saudi Arabia are becoming panicky about the rise of ISIS.It’s estimated that 2,500 Saudis have joined ISIS, a number surpassedamong Arab nations only by Tunisia, with 3,000. Saudi media arereporting almost daily on the discovery of signs of support for Isis -most recently in slogans scrawled on the walls of schools in Riyadh,Saudi Arabia’s capital city. It’s believed that ISIS has receivedfunding from Saudi sponsors in the past, fighting Syria’s presidentBashar al-Assad, and Saudi Arabia itself is split between supportersand non-supporters of ISIS.

However, the Saudi government has very publicly and very firmlycracking down on ISIS recently. Last week, the Saudisannounced the arrest of 88 people, days after an imam wasjailed for glorifying al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Saudi Arabia’s King, Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is becomingincreasingly exuberant in warning the West about ISIS. In a statementat a recent gathering, he warned about the “evil” of terrorism:

“If we ignore them [terrorists], I am sure they willreach Europe in a month and America in another month. Terroristknows no borders and its danger could affect several countriesoutside the Middle East.”

In the continuing realignment of the Middle East, it seemsincreasingly likely that ISIS will play an important part. Theconundrum is that ISIS is a bitter enemy of Iran, but it’s also anenemy of the Saudi Arabian government. Whether the solution to theconundrum will be a war within Saudi Arabia itself remains to be seen.Asharq Al-Awsat (Riyadh) and Guardian (London) and Canadian Broadcasting

ISIS and the resurgence of Saudi Wahhabism

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Saudi Arabia is partof an interesting group of countries — countries that, like Mexico,Morocco, Turkey and Russia that had a generational crisis war in the1920s, but none since.

Saudi Arabia’s last generational crisis war occurred in the 1920sbetween the Al Sauds tribes and the Wahhabi tribes. The two groupshad (have) different interpretations of Islam, and Wahhabism may bethought of as a separate branch of Sunni Islam, following an austereinterpretation (many Muslim scholars would say “misinterpretation”) ofthe Koran. The more moderate Al Sauds defeated Wahhabi tribesmen inthe 1920s and transformed Wahhabism into a socially conservativepillar of support for what soon became the country of Saudi Arabia in1932.

However, the fault line between the Al Sauds and the Wahhabis neverdisappeared, and it’s not surprising that violence along this faultline began to increase three generations later in the late 1970s,particularly with the Wahhabi seizure of the Grand Mosque at Mecca,the holiest site in Islam.

There’s little doubt that either this revolt or some subsequent revoltwould have led to a full-fledged renewal of the war between the AlSauds and the Wahhabis by now, if it weren’t for Saudi Arabia’s oilwealth, which permits it to spend large amounts of money to head offdiscontent.

ISIS’s leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, has deliberately andintentionally adopted the Wahhabi doctrine as his own, according toSaudi scholar Fouad Ibrahim:

“Through its intentional adoption of this Wahhabistlanguage, ISIS is knowingly lighting the fuse to a bigger regionalexplosion — one that has a very real possibility of beingignited, and if it should succeed, will change the Middle Eastdecisively.”

In the past, when violence was threatened against Saudi Arabia’sleadership, it was almost always completely internal violence. ISISis a much more serious threat to Saudi Arabia, because it’s anEXTERNAL threat. And since ISIS already has plenty of wealth, SaudiArabia cannot buy off ISIS with oil money. S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and Guardian (London) and Huffington Post

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Tunisia,Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL,Wahhabism, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
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